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Monday, January 26, 2009

Taking positive action to bring about change

As many of you may know, I'm an audiobook junkie. Due to my attitude towards the use of time, reading physical paper and ink books is difficult. I feel uncomfortable using my time in that way. If friends give me books, I start to read them, but usually by the time I reach page twenty I've either decided that the book is not worth my time, or that the book is worth getting on Audible. If an audio version is not available, I either pass the book on, or keep it for those rare occasions when I feel comfortable with the idea of reading.

Anyhow, I'm lucky to have a fellow audiobook junkie here in Tokyo - someone with whom I can swap recommended listens. Recently, he recommended 'Manage your tune, Master your life' by Robin Sharma, a very short audiobook that had helped him make some positive changes. I downloaded it this morning (in addition to Obama's speech which is available for free), and listened to it whilst on the train to the city office.

In brief, Robin points out just how precious our time is, and how important it is that we do not postpone the things that matter most to us. He gives practical advice - one suggestion being to join the 5am club. Having started my own 6am club last week, I can vouch for the amazing difference it makes to have an extra hour in the morning. Whereas many people wake up and find that they are chasing their day before it's even started, if you get up that little bit earlier, you will find that not only can you get a ton of stuff done before the daily routine begins, but also that you entire day will be more orderly and productive. From experience, I'd say that's very true.

Listening to Robin's session today, I was finally compelled to do something that I've been wanting to do for about a month now but have been lacking in courage to face - quit one of my part-time teaching jobs. I love the students (and judging by the emotional scenes tonight the feeling was mutual), and found myself learning a lot through working there. But (as I mentioned last night) I've got other projects that represent my passion, and the feeling of frustration in not being able to make time to pursue them has reached epic proportions.

It was funny though. When I gave them notice this afternoon, I felt compelled to re-write my email and explain why I was quitting, and pass on some of the advice from the audiobook. I talked about 2009 being the Year of Change. I wasn't entirely sure why, I'd only ever exchanged very short emails with them about scheduling. But next thing I knew, the member of staff who deals with foreign teachers was asking me to come in a bit early - they needed to talk to me. It turned out they since last week they have been at exactly the same crossroads as me. There were further emotional scenes.

I think we humans are pretty good at knowing when we're not acting in harmony with spirit. If we practice being in touch, we can tell if a job is no longer in congruence with our true paths. But taking that next step - causing inconvenience and possibly upset, stepping into the unknown in the face of (sometimes strong) opposition from those around us, is incredibly hard sometimes. But it has to be taken if we're to move forward.

I'm glad I took that step today. In the grand scheme of things it was insignificant, but carries a lot of meaning for me as I continue on my journey.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gaijin Bubble - Being a good husband - Taking action

himonya sunset _2475

Sunset from our front door

The intense feeling of 'being a foreigner' is starting to fade. These past few weeks there have been several occasions when I've been out and about, and completely forgotten that I'm a member of the 2%(ish) minority population of non-Japanese residents in Japan.

Upon arrival back in Japan last September I often found myself thinking about how the Japanese person serving me at the supermarket might be perceiving me, or wondering whether I was being spoken to in deliberately gaijin-friendly Japanese at the bank. Having been away from the islands for over a year I found I'd regressed to those times when I didn't understand Japanese at all, when I perceived myself as a nail sticking out. I was very much in Japan, and I felt it keenly whenever I stepped outside the door.

It would seem though that after about 4 months I'm becoming acclimatised. The areas of Tokyo I frequent (mostly Gakugeidaigaku, Shibuya and Kudanshita) and those areas outside Tokyo I infrequent (Saitama to see my in-laws) are no longer overwhelmingly 'Japan', they're just 'home'.

I think part of the reason for this is I can now get by with very little effort in any of these places. Initially, going from A to B, buying such-and-such in such-and-such a shop required planning, thought, and conscious effort. Now I can walk and shop in these places without thinking. I usually use my time spent walking checking blogs, writing emails and studying Kanji. Unless I'm somewhere that will stimulate my senses (such as a park or an area of notable architecture/interesting people) I don't like to not be doing something else whilst walking.

I appreciate that this must seem a bit sad. Walking around eyes glued to the screen. But I don't see it like this. Not only do I get enourmous pleasure from following the antics of my friends, acquaintances and role models around the world, but I also give myself the freedom to use my time at home (when I would otherwise be checking blogs etc) to do things that are far more constructive. I'm the kind of person that can waste hours and hours watching mindless crap on YouTube - I know I have this weakness and so have created a web usage technique for myself that prevents my doing this - it's called using an RSS reader (NetNewsWire to be precise) on the iPhone. It discourages endless link-clicking, thus I limit myself to about 250 web-based stories a day (over half of which I only read the first line of).

Hmm, seem to have gone down a rathole there. The magnetism of the iPhone. It draws you in no matter how far away you started off. All Mumbles lead to the iPhone...

Anyway back to my gaijin bubble then, that thing that makes the difference between being in Japan surrounded by Japanese people and being on planet Earth surrounded by human people.

My gaijin bubble is thinning out. Gaps are appearing in its liquid walls. I'm finding myself interacting directly with the people around me without any awareness of there being any difference / barrier between us.

And it's awareness that's the key. When I recently spoke to someone about the fading of the film, I found that in that instant, just by voicing this 'fact', the film became even more translucent.

It's all my perception.

I know this. I've always known it, only a lot of the time I choose not to acknowledge it.



Recently I've been pretty down on myself regarding my Japanese ability. It was just before New Year that it hit me hardest. I'm not sure what brought it on, but it's likely to have been my experience at the office, as that's where I struggle the most with clear communication. Thus, New Year at the in-laws saw a pretty quiet Joseph, a passive participant. I surprised myself.

I decided to stop that this morning. I decided that I could speak Japanese, and that I was actually pretty good at it. It shouldn't have come as any surprise then when a couple of hours later I found myself watching Joseph explain to a colleague, in Japanese, the workings of the new database (new as of this morning when I completed phase one of the merger of my new Access database with an existing Access databases - the two miraculously agreed to talk with each other).

Hey, I'm not that bad at Japanese after all. I just thought I was pants. That's pretty cool. What else can I think into existence?

Ah yes, the problematic relationship with that colleague. How about a resolution? Hey presto! at 3.30pm it was solved, the problematic relationship made a 360 degree turn. It wouldn't have happened had I not decided that there was ultimately no problem between us.

I'm currently on my second listen of The New Psycho-cybernetics, which I'm finding very inspiring [what is psycho-cybernetics?]. I've Mumbled about it before, and I'll say again what I said then: there's nothing in this book that you haven't read in The Secret or any of Anthony Robbins' books. Nonetheless, I like the approach, and it motivates me to act. It's this book that has encouraged me to shift my perception of things like my gaijin bubble or 'lack of Japanese language skills'.




This past week has (not unsurprisingly) seen an abundance of blog posts containing reviews of 2008. I considered writing one myself, but decided that it'll be easier to get someone else to do that for me when I can afford to outsource the revamp of my website and the drafting of my autobiography :-) But still, I found other people's reviews pretty thought provoking. Some were in the form of meme's, encouraging the authors to not only list what they had achieved, but also to detail how they thought they'd changed over the previous 12 months (for example, see this one by my friend the talking orchid).


This got me thinking about how I've grown over the past 12 months. Of course, marriage has been the biggy for me, and I must say the last 4 months since the wedding have taught me a lot about myself that I didn't necessarily want to know. I'm fortunate to live in an age in which emotional intelligence is considered a great asset and not some feminine weakness, and thus I am encouraged to act on bringing my behaviour back in alignment with what I know is ultimately right, rather than what is merely considered 'ok' by society at large. *Twinkle* has no complaints, I've not been a bad husband, but I know I can be a better husband. There have been times when I have held my love back when I have (unreasonably) felt threatened or undermined by her behaviour. She deserves my love and support at all times, no exceptions.

I'm also glad I had a few 'serious' relationships before meeting her. I recall times when, if challenged, I would only be able to rest when my partner was feeling thoroughly wretched.

How horrendous is that?

However, whilst of course I am very sorry to have hurt my partners I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to learn in situations where the stakes weren't quite so high, thus *Twinkle* doesn't have to put up with all that kind of crap (it's not a path I recommend though. If possible just be perfect from birth).

Anyway, It's taken New Year to make me act on this one. It's only too easy to get into sloppy patterns of behaviour. Once in that rut one can forget what life was like when one was free, acting in accordance with high-energy spirit. The effort required to 'be nice' when one really doesn't want to be nice isn't actually an effort at all, as the benefits (which are soon felt) are so great they act like helium balloons, pulling you up. The only effort is in making that initial decision.

This reminds me of Wayne Dyer's work - he often speaks of high and low energy cycles. (There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is one I often mention - I reccomend the audio from Audible)

Going back to changes seen during 2008, I'm also happy to have seen a considerable progress in my dealing with fear, although I don't see last year as having been the real milestone - that's this year when I begin to act with courage in the light of firmer foundations. My self-image still needs considerable work. I'm far too fearful down on myself if I really want to realise many of the dreams I have.

Ironically, by stating these things I'm only making the situation worse. It's time for an end to 'recognising' things. Whilst recognition is the first step, it alone will not bring about any change.

OK. so let's make 2009 the year of Action Without Fear.

You might think it silly to have to label a year like that. But I'm greatly encouraged by such statements. I love words. I love quotes. I even have an online collection of them at http://thanks.tumblr.com (although I've not added to it recently).

I only have one excuse left now.

I haven't got time.

That's a load of rubbish too though. Look at me, I've just spent two hours sitting at the kitchen table mumbling.

Many of my goals are related to online ventures. In the past week I've taken positive steps towards establishing 3 of them, doing things like purchasing domain names, contacting web hosts, and building a prototype site.

I've also taken action towards resurrecting the student of Japanese within me, by sorting out my various Anki databases.

Today, I made enquiries about taking time off work in order that I can dedicate a day or two a month to making these things happen, and that's a distinct possibility.

I'm going to keep a record of action taken, and review it on a weekly basis. I need to do this to keep myself moving forward.

Anyway, I'd best be off to bed, I'm doing another photo shoot at the nail salon in Shibuya tomorrow night, and need to figure out what I'll be doing for backdrops.

tatta.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last day of the year: Looking forward to 2009 and beyond

We're back at *Twinkle*s parents for New Years Eve, as is the tradition when in Japan. This year I won't be drinking, following a disastrous incident last time when I, along with *Twinkle*s two sisters' British partners devoured a whole crate of beer between us - most of it went down my throat.

I feel it'll be a nice quiet affair this year, with lots of food and some typically silly Japanese TV.

Cycling with my wifey

*Twinkle* and I have had a good day relaxing together. Following an easy morning spent watching Indiana Jones and eating tangerines (whilst tucked under the kotastu - a heated table which sits atop a pit in the floor for putting your legs in), we headed out on the family bicycles to LakeTown, the biggest shopping mall I've ever seen in my entire life. This huge development is located in the middle of a bunch of rice paddies here in Saitama, and even has its own (brand new) railway station. It has about 500 shops, and thus a huge variety - on the ground floor after passing a load of fantastically original restaurants (Disneyland-style decor, but more authentic), you'll then find a fleet of shiney Toyota family saloons. There's a gardening section, tonnes of cutey kiddies clothing stores, two large department stores, a cinema, a gym, three Starbucks, and a row of solar panels perched on the edge of the roof (which also serves as a car park).

camouflage phone

Camouflage phone

I usually loathe shopping centres, and only ever went to MeadowHall (MeadowHell) in Sheffield in desperation when I was in need of a Mac Genius. But LakeTown surprised me. They've done a great job of creating a 'nice' space. It's actually fun to walk around the place, and it's so big that you can walk around looking at your iPhone without bumping into people. It has sexy interactive floor guides, and Universal Design Toilets.

The Universal Design Toilets
LakeTown Loos

What more could you ask for?

Chopsticks display

How about this for a chopsticks collection

I guess that's why they say it three times

We didn't go there to shop though - in fact all we picked up was five pairs of slippers for the family feet (it's blooming freezing at the mo). Instead, we spent several hours in a cafe making plans for the Tokyo Tame family's next 1, 3, 5 and 10 years. We discussed moving house (and changed our minds once again), when the children are to be born (I guess that'll be a guideline then), specific financial goals and more detailed goals regarding our careers. We also made promises and plans regarding use of free time.


For recharging your electric car


Electric charging station at LakeTown shopping mall, Saitama Japan

It's really exciting to think that we can, to a certain extent, shape our own futures. The value of goal setting and future-life planning is something that we both heartely believe in, but don't do as often as we could. This is the second year though that we've taken time out to make these 'big plans'. Whilst we didn't necessarily hit all of our targets for 2008, merely having them in mind throughout the year helped us make a lot of small decisions along the way (will this take us a little closer to our goals?).

Lucky bags on offer at LakeTown shops: Pay up to 15,000 yen (£60) for a bag, the contents of which are a mystery until after you've paid - hugely popular in Japan.

List of lucky New Year bags available at some of LakeTown's 500 outlets

We'll be printing our list out and hanging it somewhere where we often see it.

On the way home from LakeTown we were fortunate to get a great view of Mount Fuji, some 100+km to the South West of Koshigaya. It's a shame we weren't crossing that bridge a little earlier, but still, there was enough light remaining light to cause me to gasp and shout "Mount Fuji!" when I first looked to the West.

Mount Fuji from about 100km+ (this is what happens when you shoot in low light on ISO 1600 with a Nikon D40x!)
fuji_2336

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thought on New Years resolutions

ri-kun the tortoise_2245

Ri-kun on the tatami

I finished reading Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" this evening. [Wikipedia] [official site]. The New York Times accurately described it as "much more of a political document. Portions of the volume read like outtakes from a stump speech, and the bulk of it is devoted to laying out Mr. Obama’s policy positions on a host of issues, from education to health care to the war in Iraq."

Whilst it might sound like it would be a right yawn for someone like me who has little interest in politics, I liked it a lot (although admittedly, I did fast-forward through some chapters that in which he talked in detail about the US political process). It served to give me a feel for Obama as a person, and I must say, he seems to be a bloomin' nice chap. I also found myself thinking that I'm like his wife, Michelle, in some ways.

I'm now listening to 'Tribes' by Seth Godin, which focuses upon marketing in the age of Twitter and Facebook. It's received mixed reviews, with some people noting that it just reads like a load of blog posts, that there's nothing new in it and that it lacks depth. All true perhaps, but that doesn't bother me. As someone very much interested in the uses of social networking services in marketing / creating communities / building businesses, I find it fascinating - and inspiring too. There's a fair amount of inspirational stuff in it that can be found in many other 'You can do it' books - but I need to hear this.

I am an ideas person, but I fear putting my ideas into action. Ideas for a publishing company. Ideas for a Penguin business. Every day, lots of ideas.

I think much of this fear stems from a fear of what others may think of me, a fear that is utterly ridiculous and serves no useful purpose in my life - it only holds me back. It kind of p*sses me off really.

I know I've come a long way, but I could do so much better. The fact is that those people who really know me know that I'm a good, trustworthy person - with flaws. Thus, they forgive me my errors in judgement and continue to support me, in return for my support and love of them. I don't need to fear losing those who are precious to me (they include all of my friends).

But what of those who think I'm stupid, misguided or deceitful, and then treat me with contempt? I'm scared of being treated with contempt.

But that's ridiculous. Looking back over the past 15 years or so, I can't think of a single occasion when someone important to me has treated me with genuine contempt. Why do I even entertain these ideas? I'm a good person, I know I am, and I don't need to have these fears.

These past few days I have begun mulling over my New Year's resolutions for 2009. One that I've been considering is 'Action without Fear'.

Crikey. That's a bit scary.

The thing is, there's no point in making such a resolution unless I act on it. That will require a conscious effort on a daily basis. I think if I do adopt it, it will need to be classed as an 'experiment' limited to a period of say, 3 months (long enough to see tangible results?), with regular progress reviews built in. You might think that overkill, but when it comes to things that are uncomfortable and require self-motivated/self-enforced persistence, I need to use all the tools available to me to succeed. (Look at me with my iPhone and Jogging schedule).

I also recognise that I need a tangible goal to aim for. It could be having my photos on public display, generating a certain amount of income from Amway, registering a certain number of artists with Three Seeds - it could include all three, and of course more.

I think 'change' will be the key word for 2009. I, like everyone else on Earth, am afforded the opportunity to change almost any aspect of my life every single day, yet I fail to appreciate that most of the time. I subjugate myself to the status quo - it's easier that way.

But that's not good enough! I have a responsibility to be the best that I can be.

No, I shouldn't need a New Year to make changes, but I don't feel strong enough to act alone at the moment. The calendar will be my ally.

Anyway, it's time for bed. We're having our Christmas Day tomorrow as it's a national holiday (emperor's birthday) - everyone is able to gather at the family home just north of Tokyo. Excited!

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Purpose



My sister Jessie (left) and I, age: quite young

Personally, I'm yet to feel the effects of the global economic slowdown. I've not been made redundant, my salary has not been cut, overtime is still allowed.

But I can feel it's just around the corner. Local redundancies are being announced on a daily basis, and the thinking is that it's just going to get worse. One of my private students was telling me how her company, once reluctant to fire anyone (something that is admittedly pretty difficult to do in Japan - the common method seems to be to bully and pressure people into quitting) has just announced 2000 cuts, with more to come in due course. Whilst the nature of the client base that the English & Chinese education company I work for means that we are not suffering so much from this initial phase of the slowdown, this past week there have been some hints that next year is going to be a tough one.

I'm very much a subscriber to Robert Kiyosaki's idea of there being four main types of people when it comes to income, who together make up the 'Cashflow Quadrant'. They are: E - employees, S - self-employed, B - business owners and I - investors.

(For more on the Cashflow Quadrant get hold of a copy of Kiyosaki's incredibly easy to read bestseller Rich Dad Poor Dad)

I've long had a gut feeling that I don't belong in the 'employee' quadrant, and in such economic conditions as these I find this gut feeling being exceptionally noisy. Seeing people in 'secure' jobs being left high and dry makes me question the sense of placing my future in the hands of an organisation that could let go of its staff at any time, for any number of reasons.

If I was working for the satisfaction that the day-to-day work brings, then it would be no big deal. Whilst I do feel real satisfaction in my day job (and before I go any further, I'd just like to state that as well as enjoying my day job a great deal, I see it as performing a very important and necessary role in my development, and I have no intention of leaving), I have a strong feeling that I'm heading towards a very different role in this world, of which I have only a vague picture at present) (this is aside from any purpose I have to become a better person in a spiritual sense, a journey that continues no matter what I do).

Whilst I am happy that I am able to make a positive impact upon the lives of my students and (to a certain extent) my colleagues, I can't get away from the idea that ultimately, the main purpose of most companies is to provide a good return to the shareholders. These are shareholders of which I know nothing. Who knows what they might choose to invest the profits of my labour in.

Some people might think this is taking things a bit too far, but I don't feel it is. I have a limited time on Earth this time around, and I want to make the most of it. I am happy to invest a few years in doing such things as working for my present company as I'm learning a lot, and teaching is a worthy cause, but I believe that I would feel that I had somehow wasted the precious gift of life were I to remain working for someone else for the rest of my life.

So then there's the S quadrant - self-employed. One thing I've been fortunate to learn second-hand over the past few years is that being self-employed isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be. For one thing, there's the fact that (for most one-man-show enterprises) if you stop working, your income stops. Then there's the hours. I forget what the stats are, but self-employed people usually work a lot more hours than those in the E quadrant. Having said that, the chances are that the self-employed business owner will get a great deal more satisfaction out of their work than an E. Every hour of work they put in is an hour invested in their own enterprise - an idea which appeals to me a great deal. They are also more likely to be doing what they love (or they probably wouldn't have started that business in the first place!). However, ultimately, the lack of time freedom in the S quadrant does not appeal to me.

Then we move across to the B quadrant - the business owners. These are people whose businesses continue to operate even when they are physically absent. This is where I want to be. This is where I feel I should be putting my energy ...but find the ease with which I can invest in the E quadrant too seductive. Striking out is tough. It's easier to just be told what to do.

The final quadrant - our ultimate financial goal, is the Investment quadrant, whereby the wealth we have created will continue to generate an income in perpetuity, for the causes that we choose. Being socially conditioned, I used to think that people in this quadrant had only got where they were by trampling on others. However, the more wealthy people I meet (here in Japan), the more this stereotype is revealed as being a load of crap. They are by far the most generous, caring and 'normal' people you could hope to meet, and don't give a poop about keeping up appearances. They are generous with both their time and money, and in my book are worthy role models.




These past few weeks I've been making my way through The New Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, an updated version of the classic self-development book. It's very good. Informative, and inspirational. Whilst there's not much in it that you haven't heard somewhere else, the scientific angle is refreshing and convincing.

...and it really gets you thinking - "If I could be the person I really wanted to be, would I be the person I am today?" If the answer is no (as it is with me), then there's clearly a need for action.

It's compelling. Real change doesn't take months of years, it takes a split second - the split second it takes to make the decision to be that person. That person who is fit (or on the road to fitness), that person who owns their own successful business (or is in the process of setting it up), that person who has rich, loving and trusting relationships with all those around them (or is making a concerted effort to build such bonds).

I'm in an incredibly fertile environment that is brimming with opportunity. It's called life, and it's time I took the next step (even if it's only a small step). I'll write about it in due course.

night.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Married Life: Day 9

When in the past I've asked newly-wed friends if marriage changes things, most of them have said 'sort of but not really' or 'no', having been living together before the marriage for an extended period of time.

It's my experience that it changes everything. But then, our marriage occurred in rather unusual circumstances, and so the changes I feel can not necessarily be attributed to the act of marriage itself.

Unlike most couples I know, we married after not seeing one another for 11 months. After we married, one of us moved half way around the world to join the other. We then moved into a new apartment together - not the first time we'd lived together, but the first time we lived in a place that had more than one room (it has two), allowing for us to be a little more expressive without fear of being squashed between walls (i.e. we can hide from one another if need be in the other room, separated by a frosted glass sliding door).

making bread in a wok
twinkle and homemade bread_9486

It's been exciting. Fascinating. A bit scary at times. Everything has been up for discussion.

I found myself feeling moved by *Twinkle*s concern for me, her wanting to hear my take on things, her concern for my feelings, and her willingness to compromise. It's not that she was never willing to listen or compromise before, but I felt that now she was taking it to a whole new level.

I wondered, was this the result of conscious effort on her part, because we were now married?

When I asked her, she said no, she was just being the same old *Twinkle*, but then she said to me, but you're making a special effort, aren't you?

I laughed at that - I was just being me! Then we both laughed. It would seem that if indeed neither of us have changed the way we act towards one another, what's happened is that marriage has either changed the level of appreciation of the other, or it has changed our perception of what is a 'normal' level of care to show towards the other.

There's a strong sense of responsibility that we both have, responsibility to make it work. The wedding left us feeling that a lot of people were investing in us, believing in us, were with us, giving us strength but also helping us appreciate what a big commitment it was that we were making. Now it's time for us to act on that.

I think one of our most important roles is to help the other get through the difficult times. I've been struggling with self-doubt and a sense of insecurity re. my potential work. *Twinkle* has been doing a wonderful job of helping me see the 'reality' of the situation, that is, reinforcing what I know is the case anyway (that I will do very well in my work), and helping me take action to make abstract job prospects into concrete appointments with students.

twinkle_9480

Likewise, *Twinkle* sometimes gets discouraged in her work, and then it's my turn to bring her back to a bright reality, where she is capable and doing the right thing. (It's also my job to make sure she gets out of the house on time in the morning).

The fact that we are now married means that long term plans have become a lot more meaningful. In fact, planning in general. We've spent several hours this week sitting at the kitchen table making our short, medium and long-term plans. It's a fairly long process, and is often hijacked by actions that need to take place now before the planning can proceed further (e.g. contacting the phone company to find out what my new phone contract will really cost on a monthly basis).

There's also a lot of secretary-type stuff to do (I'm definitely the secretary around here). Things like setting up savings plans, sorting out various insurance policies, creating budgets. I had thought that all of this could be done in a single day, but with documents missing and uncertainty as to what current arrangements are it's taking a lot longer. For me, this is all a part of the marriage package.

So to sum up, it's all good. An exciting adventure - can't wait to see where it leads us next!

Anyway, I am now going to attempt to make a loaf of bread in the manner demonstrated by my daringu wifey last night.

TTFN

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Meeting with my past

It was good to see my brother and his partner in Devon. There hadn’t really been time to catch up at the wedding; it was important we do that before I leave. I’m so glad I made the trip down there.

Likewise with my older sister, whom I met up with here in Bristol at lunchtime. I’m so proud of her doing what she’s doing.

Tonight I’m staying in Garfield Villa, the house I lived in for over a year following my return from Japan in 2003.

It’s funny being back here. The house and its lovely occupants take me back to that time.

I find myself becoming the person I was then. If you’d asked me yesterday if I was very different 5 years ago, I would have said no, not really. But ask me tonight, and the answer is a definite yes, I really have changed.

I actually find it quite disturbing to come face-to-face with the Joseph of five years ago. He’s a bit of an egotistical twat, to put it politely. He was a Joseph who cared a lot about the opinion of others, and actively sought to entertain. I feel he lacked confidence in himself, and sought to hide behind a mask of humour - and enjoyed being seen as a boundary pusher.

This was also the Joseph who desperately wanted a girlfriend, and actively sought a partner using dating websites, and getting close to friends’ friends. He had quite a few disastrous ‘encounters’, all of which become anecdotes told at parties, the bearded farmer one being the most famous.

I’m not ashamed of that Joseph: it was a necessary part of my growth, but I do feel uncomfortable taking on that character now. Reflecting on what happened tonight, I can clearly see just how much I have changed since 2003, how my internal reactions to identical stimuli (separated by time) are very different.

So in a way, it’s comforting. It’s comforting to know that there has been change. But I also feel badness inside that I wasn’t able to assert myself.

It’s also made me wonder what would have happened had I not gone to university, had I not started work on my spiritual life, had I not met *Twinkle*. I think for me, the act of physically moving to different places and meeting many different people, being exposed to different ideas, has contributed an awful lot to my growth. So that begs the question - does growth now take a back seat to financial necessity and the comfort of routine?

Of course not. But I feel that the end of this era of regular ‘forced change’ does mean that I will need to now put in a good deal more effort to actively continue learning and growing. Yes, I think the challenges of living in Japan as a foreigner will to some extent provide fuel for further growth as a matter of course, but that won’t be enough. It’s important that I continue to engage with life on a daily basis, and not get complacent.

I find that idea exciting, yet scary too. Thursday really is a big day. It’s not just a flight to Japan, it’s the start of what I think will be one of the most challenging periods of my life to date.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

The night before my wedding

bw_joseph twinkle

It's now ten minutes to midnight on the night before my wedding day. I dropped *Twinkle* back to the cottage we've rented for her parents, where she will spend her last night before she becomes my wife.

It's been an amazing day. Thinking back over the last 16 hours I feel tearful - we have been shown such kindness by so many, and the day itself is yet even to begin! We are so so grateful. Thank you so much to everyone involved.

The village hall looks great - we have hundreds of metres of bunting - handmade by a friend. There are hundreds of origami paper cranes too, made by *Twinkle*s family (it took three of them several hours to fold them all, but they look amazing). In the church we have some beautiful beautiful flower arrangements made by my brother's fiancé and mum, using flowers donated by local gardeners. Paper flowers too, made by *Twinkle*s family and fixed to the walls by *Twinkle*s best friend from Japan, Mariko, who arrived from Barcelona at lunchtime. Our guests from the Netherlands have also arrived safely, as has *Twinkle*s second bridesmaid from Tokyo.

I am staggered by the amount of organisation needed just for a party of about 80 people. My head has been buzzing so much I've found myself feeling pretty out of it for a lot of the day. Kind of like, in a dream world. Floating, watching as my body goes about doing this that and the other. It's not been a bad thing, although I know I've looked pretty dreadful!

But I really can't emphasise enough just how much this wedding is a product of many hours of effort by our family and friends. I am so grateful to be able to hand over huge great chunks of organisation to various volunteers. How can we ever repay them?




Following the rehearsal, *Twinkle* and I decided to spend some time together to just 'be' and share our thoughts and feelings of what the day gone by had meant to us, and our feelings about tomorrow, and our married life beyond that (and to practice our ceremonial kiss!). The venue was our lovely little hire car (I am anti-car in principle but i do like our little blue Chevy which came as a free upgrade from the hire company and sports a string of wedding flags flying from the back!), and the Moon Inn at Garway.

I recently wrote of how marriage is changing things - and again tonight we noted how we could almost reach out and touch the change. It's shifting our feelings for one another to a deeper level. The feeling of trust and commitment is really strong - it's taken me by surprise several times today. (...but I thought I already trusted *Twinkle*, and wasn't I already committed to our relationship?!"). The past week has been a simply perfect 'ramp up' to what will take place tomorrow. The timing could not be better.

The wedding rehearsal was really enjoyable, and natural. It was very relaxed - meaning that it felt appropriate to turn around and put my finger to my lips signalling everyone to be quiet when the priest asked if anyone knew of any lawful impediment to our marriage... tee hee, ;-p We are very fortunate to have Elaine as a priest - she is fantastic, and sets everyone at ease.

If I think of us doing that for real tomorrow surrounded by 80 or so of our closest friends, well, ...wow! Just indescribable! How wonderful to be in that environment, sharing our commitment for one another with all those that mean so much to us.

Well, I guess I'd better get some sleep. It'll be an even longer day tomorrow.

My thanks again to all of those involved in making this happen. In my mind, tomorrow's event will not just be a celebration of the relationship that *Twinkle* and I are committing to, but also a celebration of community, of mutual love and support, of family, of friendship, and of the general wonderfulness of life.

night night.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Initiating change

Wordle of Change

You know that space you often find yourself in when you wake up, that space where it's just you and the remnants of your dream? You might not be aware of where you are, or to a certain extent, 'who' you are. By 'who', I mean who you are to the world around you. Who you are in the workplace, who you are in relationships, who you are within that complex network of friends and family that exists around you.

I woke up in just such a space this morning. I was unconscious of the fact that my physical body was at my parent's house, unconscious that I was about to get married, unconscious that I have things I need to do today.

I opened my eyes, and seeing the cupboard beside my bed, so I became aware of where I was. With my location established, so my place in the world began to come back to me. There was the wedding. There was *Twinkle*. There was Joseph, in Orcop.

However, this morning It took a bit longer than usual to fit into the self-constructed id, and I found myself putting an arrest upon 'reality's creep'.

Hang on a sec, I thought, I don't have to be this person, I don't have to fit into this world that is a construct of every day of my life up until now.

I could change everything, now.

I could leave everything behind. Walk out of the door and start a completely new life. Go and live in Siberia (would have to take a wooly jumper).

A few moments later I'd had an opportunity to think about what I'd like to change in the reality I've constructed, and decided that actually, there was nothing I would change, and I am very happy to continue along the current path I have chosen.

However, this brief period of time spent in that space free of earthly concerns reminded me of the immense potential we all hold (those of us that are fortunate to live in 'free' societies), a potential for change. If we don't like our lives in any way, we can choose to change it, completely, with a single decision that could be made in a split second. We are only bound to our current situations by our own self-imposed limits, limits that give us an enormous sense of comfort by placing scary (limitless) possibilities out of reach.

I like crossing boundaries, I like big change. I like having the freedom to choose to act independently of a personal daytime reality, the reality that becomes our identities in the morning.

I think, in a way, this is one reason why I enjoy living in Japan. In Japan my id is far from concrete. I have good friends, but they are few (I can count them on one hand), thus meaning that I am free of any history when stepping out into the world. I'm free to be who I choose to be that day, with far fewer self-imposed restrictions. Just guided by what feels right.




It'll be interesting to see if the reality I create in Japan comes to mirror the reality I have in the UK. I suspect that it might, but it will be far more limited. I'm going to have to make quite an effort to form the kind of networks I have here in the UK. That's something I've not been too good at in Japan in the past. I've tended to keep my world small, revolving around a few close friends / my partner. I know I need to reach out, especially to the foreign community in Japan. With two notable exceptions, I've resisted that in the past.

Perhaps it's time for some massive change there.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Parting

So here we are WigStylers, back in my hometown. I mean, home village. It's been a manic few days, what with my travelling by train or car hundreds of miles to the three corners of the UK (Sheffield, London, Hereford) to meet important people, give presentations, pack all my belongings and move house.

In the past 24 hours I've given away at least half of all of my worldy stuff. I find it has to be done in stages. On the first day I can only dispose of those things that I have no emotional attachment to and have no use for, but by day three I'm giving away things I've had for years, presents from friends and family, valuable stuff that I could use but would cost too much to send to Japan.

It hurts to part with some of these things, but I think it's healthy. I don't want to be dependent upon 'stuff' for happiness in life. All of these belongings will find new homes thanks to the local charity shops.

Having said that, I can't live without my Macbook so no, you can't have it.

The remaining three boxes await Yamato Kuro Neko (Japan's No.1 courier which also has an office in the UK, Tel 01753 657 688) who will come and pick them up to Ship to Japan at the end of the month (£50 for a 25kg box by surface mail, £80 by airmail).

It's good to have left Broad Lane Court. I feel I'm able to get a bit more closure on my uni years and associated projects. With no base there any more, I feel able to shift my energy and attention down to Herefordshire (and of course the wedding). I do still have three Sheffield-based projects left to deal with, but am working on that. 

Need to get it all done ASAP, *Twinkle* arrives in 8 days, and I still have a wedding to sort out. 

It's a pretty wiggy time though. I think life is going to get even more interesting from here on. 

I wonder where I'll be a year from now...

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

From the train: Nuclear Drivers and Being the Change



I'm on the train back to Sheffield. It's been a pretty easy journey, relaxing. For the first leg I was on a rail-relacement bus. I sat at the front as I often do on buses, provided they have seat-belts. Next to me was a chap in his 40s. Pretty scruffy, stinking of cigarettes.

"This bus journey is costing me £400" he said to the driver, clearly pretty pissed off. "I'm a truckie - got a load of nuclear waste to take to Germany tonight, have to be at Dover by 10pm. I'm gonna miss that ferry because of these engineering works - you have no idea how much trouble that's gonna cause. They have to make special allowances for me, have to make sure I'm on the deck - it's a nuclear load you know"

The bus driver mumbled something about the train company working to upgrade the track.

"Yeah, well, it's just not good enough. I'm gonna make sure this rail company gets all the bad press it deserves."

Well, that'll certainly help, won't it?

Things were quiet after that. Just the guy at Stockport who seemed suicidal in a manic kind of way. Thankfully he didn't jump in front of the train - just banged repeatedly on the door until it opened.

I've been reading more of the Be The Change. I tell you, if you have any dreams of starting any kind of movement or company to bring about positive change, this book is a must. It is so inspiring. You can't help but feel "Why not me?" after reading this book.

The other message that comes out of it's butterfly-adorned pages is that it is vital to follow your passion. You also need to have a laser-like focus; seek advice as widely as possible; have a plan that is set and followed, yet flexible; get a great team around you.
If you have these things, you can't fail in whatever you do.

I'm struck by what these people have achieved. They have touched the lives of billions. They are incredible - and yet at the same time they are no different from Joe Bloggs. Indeed, it's that message that is one of the loudest. These folks don't have buckets of money, they aren't nuclear physicists, they don't necessarily have any clear idea of what they want to do at the outset - but they do find their passion, and follow it.

Mind you, if I look around, I see people like that everywhere, doing amazing things (be they small or big amazing things) on a daily basis, making a difference. I bet if I interviewed a sample of my friends and acquaintances (and mumblers) I'd be able to fill a book that was just as inspiring, in its own way.

All of this keeps on leading me back to my new life with *Twinkle*. Just can't get her out of my head. This new partnership excites me so much. Scares me too. So much change, so much opportunity - am I going to be brave enough to step outside of my comfort zone and follow my heart? It would be far easier to just settle for something that doesn't stretch me too much, but I think long term that would be quite painful.

Ho hum.

Just pulling into Sheffield Station, must dash.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My coaching course

I'm now in week 5 of my 12-week coaching course with TSI. Initially, I'll admit I was pretty sceptical, but my friends and I had talked about coaching a little, and I figured it was at least worth a try. Nothing to lose, right?

So, I signed up for a free coaching session with the founder, Cliff - he'd been highly recommended by a friend of the family.

That first 60 minute call was great. Really taught me a thing or two, and made me realise what excuses I was hiding behind in some areas of life. I was impressed, and so decided to sign up for the basic 101 coaching course that they offer.

There's six of us taking the 101 course, 5 of whom are in the USA. Every week we log in to our group lesson, and work through a series of thought-provoking exercises centred on a particular theme. For example, one week we may focus upon listening. I mean, really listening. That's been an interesting one, and our groups' results have been pretty staggering, seeing developments in relationships that have long been in need of change.

Every week we come together on a group call, discuss the lesson, and discuss our results. It's great to hear what's been achieved, and I must say each week I'm pretty staggered by how far people are pushing themselves - and consequently what great results they are getting. It may be financial, it may be familial, it may be connected with a career. Whatever, there's big changes for the better occurring left, right and centre.

Each week we're teamed up with a different member of the group, to whom we make a couple of calls during the week to help support one another through the change. That's been a real joy, getting to know these people, and being able to share experiences that may help others deal with their particular challenges.

One of the biggest motivators for me is being accountable. By making a commitment to "do X by such and such a date", I'm prompted to do things that I would normally put off, or not do at all. This accountability basically acts to put change in 5th gear. I'm not spending a week thinking about doing something and then doing it the following month - knowing that my friends are behind me in my action I'm able to do it now. Having this supportive environment of people that you have made a commitment to makes a world of difference.

So, all in all, a third of the way through the course I'm very happy with what I've got out of working with TSI. There's tonnes of coaching companies out there, and the thing is with no proper regulatory system you can never be sure what you're getting unless you try it - anyone can call themselves a 'life coach'. But this is a good one, so if you ever consider coaching, I'd add them to the list of people you'd try (I'd also recommend a call with this guy for comparison's sake).

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

SeeChange Residential Event: Day 1

It's been a fascinating day today.

Following that early morning jog, I slowly got my stuff together and headed over to the Computing Centre, where I was to met a couple of university 'colleagues' for the 50-minute drive down here, the Derbyshire Hotel, from where I'm now staying for a couple of nights (all expenses paid. Thank you Sheffield!).

This three day residential event is the product of the university's investment in change. The idea was spawned at a national "change" event attended by a couple of senior members of staff, who then thought "Wow! What a great idea! Let's have our own 'Change' process at Sheffield ...and let's call it SeeChange!" The call then went out for project proposals, one of which was drawn up by Patrice of Learning and Teaching Support, and Mark of CiCS/CILASS fame.

The goal of our project is to formulate a strategy that will see students utilising Web 2.0 tools to positively impact upon their learning process. This might include tools such as Facebook, RSS feeds & newsreaders, Flickr, YouTube and social bookmarking. It's not going to be easy. The use of Facebook by university staff is the topic of some debate and has cropped up several in CILASS debates; the current consensus seems to be something along the lines of 'stay away'.

What is key to our project is that it is student driven. If the university was to 'hijack' these popular services, the response would most likely be students choosing to go elsewhere. It's a difficult situation: A university driven initiative that cannot be university driven!

I'll describe some of the tools we've been given to aid us in our change process tomorrow.




I feel very fortunate to be involved in what really is an exciting project. And it's not just the project itself, it's the way it's being launched. The four teams that are here (making up a total of about 30 people) were selected following a competitive tendering process - thus we already feel quite special, it's like winning a holiday (although the hotel's not all that nice, and the Internet access deal is the biggest rip-off in the history of the galaxy. Having said that, I love staying in hotels and am very grateful for what we have been provided with. I'll be going for a Sauna when I wake up tomorrow...). The reason it's a three day residential held outside of Sheffield is, according to one of the organisers, to stop people nipping back to the office at lunchtime - we have to be fully focused. And I think it does help the creative process.

I'm also very appreciative to be able to partake in the training sessions that are being provided as a part of the package, the kind of things you'd pay good money to take part in privately. I'll talk more tomorrow about the Team Management Profile, a 'test' that leads to a personalised 25-page report on your contribution to a team. They are scarily accurate and offer invaluable insights into one's own character.

It's fascinating attending this event in the role of 'student', surrounded by staff. Whilst I may be 30 years old, I often feel more like I'm a teenager, and am prone to elevate staff above myself in the university environment. But seeing them work together here, it strikes me just how much they resemble my classmates and I as we carry out some group project. This leads me to think on how difficult I find it to take on the mantle of 'adult', and I wonder if this is a consequence of being labelled as a 'student'. How will my sense of identity change when I begin work?

I digress.

I'd better get to bed really, it's late. We have a full schedule tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

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